By the middle of the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution was transforming Britain. Wolverhampton had over 100 foundries and it was the hub for light metal trades. The Briscoe family owned a lot of property so William Briscoe was able to set up his own business with family money.

In 1781 at the age of 22, William opened his first premises. He supplied materials to saddlers, builders, architects, gun smiths and toy makers. His business boomed, and soon he expanded to the Caribbean and Latin America. In 1863 Briscoes made it to the other side of the world when it set up shop in Dunedin. The Otago and West Coast gold rushes were great for business and Briscoe warehouses, selling a wide range of industrial and farming equipment, were soon seen across the country.


During the 1980’s Briscoes were struggling to survive in NZ so the (now) Dutch owners looked at selling. This is when Australian businessman, Rod Duke entered the scene. He believed he could turn the company’s fortunes around and offered to buy the NZ operation. To launch the new style of shopping he envisioned flooding TV with low budget commercials. To start the ball rolling, he auditioned hundreds of females in Auckland and Wellington to be the ‘face’ of Briscoes. He finally found ‘The Briscoes Lady’ in Christchurch.

In 1989, Tammy Wells appeared in her first TV commercial as ‘The Briscoes Lady’. Thirty two years later, she is still fronting TV ads for Briscoes which makes her the longest running performer in New Zealand TV history.

Tammy grew up on a lifestyle block beside a Canterbury dairy farm. Her childhood was full of outdoor activities from hut building to fishing and farm work. After just four days into studying for a psychology degree at Canterbury University, she received a letter from Radio NZ offering her a job as a sound engineer. She left campus that day and three weeks later started her job at Radio NZ. After attending an acting workshop, she hired an agent to hopefully launch her career as a screen personality. Her first gig was promoting laundry products and as part of the campaign, her image appeared on supermarket laundry posters across the country.


Rod Duke initially hired Tammy on a two-commercial contract. The first commercial was filmed beside a friend’s outdoor pool promoting the ‘end of summer’ clearance including beach towels, outdoor furniture and BBQs. With the success of the two ads, she was offered a year’s contract. In any given year, Tammy fronts over 30 commercials with as many as two being shot in a day. These are usually standard, no frills retail commercials which are usually shot in 3 hours. Having made hundreds of retail commercials myself, I am well aware of the hard work that goes into making them. There are so many elements that come into play – lighting, sound, props, sets, presenter presentation, script, not to mention weather issues if shot outdoors. Tammy says one of the most painful commercials she fronted involved Lux soap flakes which represented snow. The sharp-edged flakes were blown into her face and as she had to look directly at the camera, many found their way into her eyes where they went soapy and painfully stung her eyes.

Most people don’t actually know the name of ‘The Briscoes Lady’. This is a marketing ploy to keep her ‘in character’. Despite this, she is by now, one of the best recognized screen performers in New Zealand. When I returned to NZ after 9 years living in Britain, I found it almost impossible to understand ‘The Briscoes Lady’ because of her incredibly strong Kiwi accent. Even today, every time I hear her I am reminded of how strong her Kiwi twang is. I guess this is a selling point but I would suggest she would be intelligible to the growing number of non-English speaking new kiwis setting up home in NZ.

Briscoes currently have 84 outlets in New Zealand trading as Briscoes Homeware, Living & Giving, and Rebel Sport. The success of ‘The Briscoes Lady’ ads has helped make Rod Duke one of the richest businessmen in the country and it stands to reason that we will continue to see Tammy Wells presenting the ‘one day sale with 10 to 60% off’ and her often repeated line, “you’ll never buy better!”

Ceidrik Heward

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